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Protect Yourself Against Police Tactics and Vehicle Searches

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Santa Clara County criminal defense attorney

If you or a loved one is ever stopped for a traffic violation and suspected of drug possession or any other criminal offense, you will have several opportunities to make it either easier or harder for the police and prosecutors to arrest and convict you of such crimes. Here are some tips to protect yourself against common police tactics related to vehicle searches, which are purposely employed to intimidate, mislead, or lure you into self-incrimination. 

If Police Ask to Search Your Car, You Can Refuse 

If you are stopped on a traffic violation, that does not give the police an automatic right to search your car. Say you have been pulled over for speeding. After approaching your car window and scanning the interior of your car, the officer suspects you might have been consuming alcohol or marijuana while driving. But the officer sees nothing in plain sight that confirms his or her suspicion. 

At this point, the officer may say something like, “I’d like to search your vehicle, okay?” Notice the way the question is posed. It sounds like the police have the legal authority to search regardless of your answer. In fact, they do not. So what do you do when asked to let the police search your car? A good response to that question is, “No, I do not consent to any searches.” 

The police can, however, without your consent and without needing a warrant, bring out a drug-detection dog to sniff the exterior of the vehicle. This is considered equivalent to an officer looking through car windows to see what is in plain sight. However, it is considered a violation of your rights to prolong the stop just to await the arrival of a drug-sniffing dog.

Probable Cause

Now consider a slightly different scenario. The officer glances into your car and sees something suspicious in plain sight, such as a firearm sticking out from under a seat that is not properly cased for transportation, open alcoholic beverage containers, or evidence of the presence of drugs other than marijuana. (At least one California court has ruled that the smell of burnt marijuana is no longer probable cause for a search due to the state’s legalization of recreational use for adults.)

That sighting gives the officer probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, which now allows a search without your consent and without requiring a search warrant approved by a judge. The officer can now ask you to step out of the vehicle and then search the passenger compartment of your vehicle without your permission. At this point, you have to obey the police order to step out of the vehicle and stand wherever you are told.  Also, you cannot interfere with the search, but you and your attorney can challenge the officer’s probable cause later.

Consult a Santa Clara County Drug Crimes Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one has been arrested for any type of drug crime, talk to a knowledgeable San Jose, CA criminal defense lawyer before making any statements to the police. If the police search your vehicle, be sure to pay careful attention to what they are doing so that you can report the specifics to your attorney. Call 408-234-7563 today to schedule a free consultation at Fuller Law Office.

 

Sources:

https://www.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/rights-police-stops.pdf

https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Cannabis-smell-in-vehicle-by-itself-not-reason-to-15106018.php

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